Since the second presidential debate held on October 09 the political atmosphere in the United States has taken a turn for the worse. Donald Trump sharpened attacks against his rival Hillary Clinton and continued tirade against the minority communities. He asked his supporters to keep an eye on their neighbours on the day of election - a veiled threat against the non-white voters, considered vote-banks of the Democratic Party.
On October 12, the Republican Party office in Hillsborough, North Carolina was set on fire causing extensive damage to the property. Clinton and the Democratic Party officials condemned the incident "as horrific and unacceptable. We are very grateful that everyone is safe."
Trump denounced the attack and said, "Animals representing Clinton and Democrats just firebombed our office because we are winning." A few days' later police detected IED (impoverished explosive devices) planted in the neighbourhood of a minority community, if exploded, would have caused severe damages. Luckily police defused the device well ahead it could strike.
In the final debate held in Las Vegas on October 19, the Americans witnessed the egregious accusations levelled against a political adversary. Trump called Clinton "corrupt", "liar" and "such a nasty woman" and that she should not have been allowed to contest for the White House. People were taken aback at the levels of the accusation against a political rival. They were expecting that the candidates would instead focus on the issues that were of concern to the country and expose deficiencies of opponents enabling the voters to make the right choice on the Election Day. But people were disappointed.
Trump rightly questioned Clinton's policies on abortion, immigration, trade and on external relations. Opposing abortion Trump alleged "ripping nine months baby from mothers' womb" as unacceptable and Clinton's response seemed defensive. Clinton argued that only mothers should have the right to decide when and under what circumstances abortion should be undertaken and the government should stay out of it. She did not clarify that pregnancies are terminated at different stages; 30 per cent take place at six weeks of pregnancy, 69 per cent occur in the first 12 weeks and only 1.2 per cent take place after 21 weeks. But abortions at nearly nine months of pregnancy, as claimed by Trump, turns out to be life threatening for mothers and are seldom carried out.
On immigration, Trump alleged that when people were waiting for years to be legally processed Clinton's policy of granting amnesty to undocumented immigrants are unjustified. He repeated the allegation that Mexico had sent immigrants who were involved in criminal activities and deserve to be deported. Clinton defended granting "residency" to those immigrants whose children were born here, who paid taxes and had no record of criminal activities. She opposed deportation of 11 million undocumented immigrants and said mass deportation would be expensive, inhuman and un-American. Clinton added that building wall along the southern border would be counter-productive and the Mexican President dismissed the idea of funding the construction of the wall.
Trump alleged, "We take care of illegal immigrants better than we take care of our vets." This is a distortion of fact. Broadly speaking, people who set foot in the United States illegally are not granted the same rights or privileges as people live legally. They are not eligible to receive social security benefits, food stamps or any other benefits. And even though the unauthorized immigrants cannot collect benefits, they paid about $12 billion in the social security programme in 2010.
Trump accused Clinton of deserting the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement after he pointed out that jobs would be transferred overseas while the unemployed in the United States are desperately in need of it. Clinton admitted she was in favour of the TPP but did not agree with the details. She levelled counter-accusation that Trump himself had outsourced jobs in China and Mexico to benefit from cheap labour.
Trump hammered Clinton on alleged flawed foreign policy with respect to Syria, Iraq and Iran. He questioned the wisdom of Mosul invasion with much publicity and fanfare. He said Mosul was brought under full control by the U.S.-Iraq coalition forces but Iraq was abandoned without putting in place a contingency plan. Mosul was then taken by the ISIS. He questioned: where is the element of surprise? ISIS leaders have all moved away prior to Mosul invasion. Trump claimed that Obama and Clinton were outsmarted by Russian President Putin on Syria. He also said that the Iraq invasion offered a bonanza to Iran and the nuclear deal had provided over $1.2 billion to Iran with no ostensible advantage to the United States.
Trump alleged that $6 billion was found missing in the State Department while Clinton was its head. Clinton did not respond leaving an impression that she had something to hide. The fact remains the Inspector General of the State Department summarized verities of reports and found paperwork deficiencies in closing out contracts, valued $6.0 billion, issued in Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa but no money was lost or stolen. And two-thirds or more concerned contracts had taken place prior to Clinton taking charge of the State Department.
Trump stunned millions of people watching the debate when he refused to accept the electoral verdict. When the moderator insisted, "Are you saying you are not prepared now to commit to the principle of peaceful transfer of power?" Trump replied, "I will tell you at that time. I will keep you in suspense, okay?"
Trump's repudiation of popular verdict alleging the electoral process has been rigged and the corrupt press poisoned the minds of the people created turmoil within his own party. Many Republican heavyweights distanced themselves from Trump in order to salvage their candidacies in the upcoming elections. But moderates and independents are not enough to get them re-elected. They need hardcore Republican votes as well to get elected.
It is undeniable that a section of the population is angry at the prevailing situation. Technological change has undercut incomes and living standards for a significant number of people. An influx of immigrants has compounded the difficulties in certain communities. It is estimated that 2.4 million jobs have shifted overseas in 2000s and deindustrialization has undercut the African-Americans in some areas. Unemployment has declined to 5.0 per cent but in certain communities, unemployment rate stands around 20 per cent. Their grievances have found expression in the words of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders and will continue to vibrate beyond 8 November 08. It is true trade creates jobs but a safety net needs to be put in place, in the short run, for the unskilled and less fortunate segment of the population. Clinton and her advisors should not lose sight of the agonies of this disenchanted population. The new administration must find redress to their grievances.
In the meantime, Michelle Obama has emerged as the most powerful voice against Trump's abuse of women and his repudiation of electoral outcome. In Phoenix, addressing a gathering over 7,000 people she said, "We still live in the greatest country on Earth. We have every reason to be hopeful. Remember that in difficult times, we don't give up. We don't discard our highest ideals. We rise up to meet them, to perfect our union. This is the power of hope." In another meeting she reminded the audience, "We are fortunate to live in a country where the voters decide our elections. They decide who wins and who loses. End of the story. And when a presidential candidate threatens to ignore our voices and reject the outcome of this election, he is threatening the very idea of America itself, and we cannot stand for that. We do not keep American democracy in suspense." The audience roared in agreement.
The writer is a former official of the United Nations.